Thursday, June 27, 2013

Fastnet revisited

 One of the great European lighthouses, the Fastnet is a remarkable piece of construction, lying south west of Cape Clear Island. When I was there a year ago, it was an evening trip and the photos I got, although quite spectacular, were somewhat murky and gloomy, though they did add to the atmosphere. This time, it was a glorious summer's afternoon trip, and the pictures are much better.
The first Fastnet light (the black stump of which can still be clearly seen in the photos) was first exhibited in 1854 and was constructed using cast iron plates. It was apparently painted white with a black hoop. Although a wonder of engineering at the time, it soon became clear that the material possibly wasn't the best for waveswept lighthouses.

 Three peninsulas up from the Fastnet Rock, the Calf Rock Lighthouse off Dursey Island was also constructed of cast iron plates. Storms frequently battered them and bits started falling off, so they strengthened it at the bottom. Then in November 1881, in a terrible storm, the whole lighthouse was torn away, leaving only a stump.

 Of course, alarm bells began to ring for the Fastnet, in an even more precarious position than Calf Rock. With their customary urgency, it was another 17 years before they commenced work on the new Fastnet. Constructed of large Cornish granite blocks, cut and numbered and shipped over from Cornwall to Crookhaven, the newly constructed Ierne transported them over to the Rock, winching them onshore, where each block was personally laid into place by a man named Kavanagh, from Wicklow.
 Because of the weather, progress was desperately slow but slowly the new tower rose. They decided to build it from sea level, figuring that the reason that the seas came up so high on the old one, was because the rocks pushed the waves upwards.
Eventually, Kavanagh laid his last block and the tower was complete. Kavanagh went back to Wicklow for some shore leave, where he died suddenly without ever seeing the tower lit. He was the only casualty of the construction.
 The light was first lit in 1904 and the old tower slowly disassembled, leaving just the black stump.

There is a famous yacht race that takes place every two years, that goes from southern England, round the Fastnet and back again. Those of us old enough to remember, recall the 1979 race in which a fierce storm decimated the field. There is a simple memorial on Cape Clear to the fifteen men who lost their lives that fateful night.